September 6, 2013

Ending Amnesty As We Know It: I’ve semi-obsessively compared the current immigration reform debate with the welfare reform debate of the Nixon era, when there was also a respectable bipartisan consensus supporting a disastrous policy idea–the “guaranteed income.” The idea was defeated in Congress on a close vote and faded away. A much more sensible policy–replacing welfare with work– then became the core of what was called “welfare reform,” with a version passing in 1996.

So too with the bipartisan consensus idea of a “legalization first” immigration amnesty–except for one big difference: Welfare recipients aren’t a powerful voting block. Once the guaranteed income was defeated they weren’t going to get much traction by agitating to revive it. Latino voters, on the other hand, have considerable power and a continuing supply of leaders ready to try to turn “legalization first” into a litmus ethnic issue–with opposition to it a sign of semi-racist disrespect. The Latinos aren’t going anywhere–their numbers will only increase (though maybe not as rapidly as was once thought).

Which raises the question: Will the idea of an Obama/McCain-style amnesty ever go away? That’s always been one of the dispiriting features of the current debate–even if amnesty gets beaten this year, won’t it be back next year? With the same support from La Raza and Mark Zuckerberg, big business lobbyists, the Catholic Church and the Media-Amnesty Complex? It’s decidedly not yet beaten this year, of course**–but one reason might be a Sisyphean fatigue among its now-almost-exclusively-Republican opponents in the House. If it’s going to succeed one of these days, why not just get it over with?

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